Salem, NH - Formula Race Promotions is set to start its 2017 season this weekend at VIR with the opening rounds of the F1600, F2000 and Atlantic Championship Series. New drivers, more cars and a new sanctioning body in USAC Racing make up the big stories going into the four-day race weekend at the 17-turn VIR.
In the F1600 Championship Series, top teams like Team Pelfrey and K-Hill Motorsports are returning with multiple entries for the 21-race 2017 season.
2016 Champion Neil Verhagen from K-Hill has been signed by the Red Bull Junior Team and has moved to Europe to drive Formula Renault.
Not a single driver on the biggest F1600 entry list since 2015 has an overall win in F1600 Championship competition.
At K-Hill, it's three new drivers for the weekend with Yuven Sundaramoorthy, Zach Holden and Lance Fenderson; while Pelfrey has entered three cars for the triple header: Matthew Cowley, Jonathan Kotyk and David Osborne.
In addition, Dexter Czuba and Chris Kierce will partner at Bjerke Motorsports with Ryan Bjerke also entered. Bjerke and Czuba have previous Series experience, having run part-time the past three seasons.
J.D. Riems is another driver making his Series debut; as is John Dole, who is running in both F2000 and F1600.
In the Masters Class, Joe Colasacco is back to defend his VIR class wins in October 2016 for Auriana Racing, while Series Veteran Mike Scanlan hopes to mount a Masters Class title bid. Rice Race Prep has entered two cars with Joel Haas in a Van Diemen/Honda and Greg Rice in a Reynard/Honda.
More Masters contenders include Dan Pyanowski, former National Champion Scott Rubenzer, as well as Ken Bouquillon and Sam Lockwood.
The F2000 Series is also wide-open for the year, with only three drivers on the VIR entry list having wins in Championship competition: John McCusker, Brandon Dixon and Bob Reid.
All three drivers took single victories in 2016, with McCusker and Reid winning in the season finale at VIR.
Reid is back in the R-Sport Metrik chassis for 2017, while McCusker continues with DotWorks Racing but has moved from Ford to Mazda power for the 14-race season.
Dixon missed the season finale, and after off-season back surgery, is another Championship favorite in the No. 5 Citation Engineering entry.
Tim Paul is looking for a strong opening weekend, returning for a season-long program after a partial season in 2016.
Rob Allaer, a former National Champion, is following a similar trend. Allaer ran strong in one F2000 weekend in 2016, a sole appearance at Mid-Ohio, and is now confirmed for a full-season program.
Steve Jenks and Tumenas Motorsports, coming off a strong 2016 with podium after podium, are still hunting for their first win, but have also switched over to the 2.0-liter Mazda engine for 2017. Another team making the switch is ADSA/Wright racing as both Robert Wright and Al Guibord are in Mazda-powered Van Diemens for 2017.
There is also Nick Palacio, who scored his best-ever F2000 finishes at the season finale in 2016 at VIR in the No. 25.
At Polestar, Dan Denison returns to Series competition in the No. 51. Another fast Masters Class driver, Dave Weitzenhof, is the oldest driver in the field at 74, but sat on pole as recently as the Watkins Glen round in May 2016.
VIR marks the debut of Reece Everard in F2000 in the No. 61 Affinity entry.
There are more returning drivers, including Masters Class racers Paul Farmer, Hilton Tallman and Peter Gonzalez.
Davy D'Addario is back for the first time since summer 2016 in the Magnum Motorsports Van Diemen, as are Chris Gumprecht, in the No. 97, and Connor Gawry, in the No. 71 CJ Motorsports entry.
Two returning Series Champions and young, new talent are the storylines for the Atlantic Championship Series and its 14-race season.
2015 Champion Keith Grant and 2012 Champion David Grant are among the title favorites for Polestar Racing Group, with Keith back in the No. 40 entry and David in the No. 29, both in Swift 016/Mazdas.
David nearly put together a Championship bid in 2016 despite missing the first four races of the season; while Keith hopes to bounce back to his 2015 form. They will be joined by a third Polestar car with Lewis Cooper Jr.
At K-Hill Motorsports, 2016 Champion Ryan Norman has moved up and over - signing with Andretti Autosport and its Indy Lights program.
New blood moves in, however, as F1600 Championship runner-up Peter Portante will make his Atlantic debut at VIR.
Portante will face an uphill challenge, as he will mark his first laps in an Atlantic car at speed on Thursday morning.
Jenna Grillo will join him at K-Hill, moving up from F2000 competition in 2016. She recently won an Atlantic regional race at VIR earlier in the month and is making her pro Atlantic debut this weekend.
Blake Mount is another young driver making his Series debut at K-Hill, while the team rounds out its four-car entry with Mike Jacques in the No. 54.
Comprent Motorsports will field four cars, including Bob Corliss, in a Swift 014/Toyota; and Lee Alexander, Richard Zober and Chris Ash in a trio of Swift 016/Mazdas.
Spencer Brockman is another entry expected, in a new Swift 014/Mazda.